A 28-year-old child-actor turned photographer recently landed a six-figure book deal to tell the story of how she masqueraded as a boy while growing up in the East Village.
According to Publisher’s Weekly, nine publishing houses bid on the North American rights to the memoir Darling Days, based on what they read in author iO Tillett Wright‘s 30-page proposal. Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins, won the auction for a reported $700,000.
In a deal memo, Publishers Marketplace describes the book as “the story of her coming of age in New York’s Lower East Side in the Eighties and Nineties – a place and time captured in the photographs of her godmother Nan Goldin — and an odyssey of identity, from living as a boy from the age of six to fourteen, to breaking free from her fiercely protective yet wildly negligent mother, and beyond.”
Tillett Wright grew up in the East Village, just a couple of blocks from CBGB. “Where I come from, if you weren’t a drag queen or a radical thinker or a performance artist of some kind, you were the weirdo,” she said in her 2012 TEDxWomen talk, “Fifty Shades of Gay.” “As a kid on the streets of New York, you learn how to trust your own instincts. You learn how to go with your own ideas. So when I was six, I decided that I wanted to be a boy. I went to school one day and the kids wouldn’t let me play basketball with them. They said they wouldn’t let girls play so I went home and I shaved my head and I came back the next day and I said, ‘I’m a boy.’”
However, Tillett Wright said she never felt like she was born the wrong gender — the ruse was more like an elaborate piece of performance art that she cultivated until she turned 14. Onscreen, she played both girls (Trees Lounge, with Steve Buscemi) and boys (Walter Po, with Christian Slater).
“It’s one of the great blessings of my very unorthodox childhood that I wasn’t ever asked to define myself as any one thing at any point — I was just allowed to be me, growing and changing in every moment,” she said in the speech.
The self-taught photographer’s work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, New York, Brooklyn Magazine, GQ, Elle and other publications, including her three limited-edition photography books. Fuse Gallery in the East Village hosted her first solo exhibition in 2010. (Her most recent acting credit listed on IMDB is a 2004 episode of Sex and the City; she played a McDonald’s employee).
“Self Evident Truths,” a collection of 10,000 black-and-white portraits of individuals who identify as “not 100% gay or straight,” has been an ongoing project for several years. One of the subjects of the series was actress Olivia Thirlby (Juno), who had previously been assumed heterosexual.
Michael McKenzie, senior director of publicity for Ecco, said Darling Days will likely be released next year. Per Tillett Wright’s official Facebook page, she is also writing a screenplay.